The Social Dilemma. A Netflix movie. 2020, PG-13, 1h 34m.
This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations. The Social Dilemma follows former Google designer Tristan Harris and others on a quest to educate the public about the way social media is constructed to manipulate users and foment addiction, radicalization, and polarization. Now running the Center for Humane Technology, Harris is one of a handful of former tech designers and innovators interviewed in this documentary who shed light on the constantly updated algorithms that help sites predict and manipulate our online behavior to drive more engagement and bring in advertising dollars. The result is addictive technology that even these experts say they have a hard time quitting, and that can have seriously detrimental psychological effects on individuals. Some of their points are dramatized in a fictional narrative. The way our individual feeds transform to reaffirm our existing beliefs is leading to distinct spheres of realities online, to the extent that people can no longer agree on what’s true or factual, sowing division and chaos. The interviewees also talk about how, on a global level, social media has been weaponized by bad actors to destabilize democracies and spread misinformation. The experts are worried, and in this documentary they explain why and what we can possibly do about it.
How Curiosity Will Save Us. TedTalk. Mónica Guzmán. TEDxSeattle.
For Mónica Guzmán, curiosity isn’t a muse that flits by when we wonder about something. It’s the most powerful tool we have to navigate our world, especially when our world is dangerously divided along political lines. “If you can’t be curious across divides in a polarized world,” she says, “you can’t see the world at all.” In this TedTalk Mónica shares examples of curiosity-driven conversations that make it possible for even the most opposed liberals and conservatives to see and hear one another, despite the misperceptions from their news feeds. With simple, powerful questions she herself has used in countless treks across the divide, Mónica shows us how having critical conversations with people—instead of about them—changes everything. And how taking the first steps toward understanding the views that most confound us isn’t just possible, it’s easier than you think. A Mexican immigrant, Latina, and dual US/Mexico citizen, Mónica lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids and is the proud liberal daughter of conservative parents. She is Director of Digital Storytelling at Braver Angels, the nation’s largest grassroots, cross-partisan organization dedicated to bridging the political divide.
Here are some of the materials that address the political and social issues and conflicts in America today, as well as materials that offer solutions to the anger and strife that those controversial issues generate. These books and articles come from various political points of view.
- Peter T. Coleman, The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization. 2021.
- Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter, The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy. 2020.
- Monica Guzman, I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. 2022.
- Stephen Hawkins, et al. Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape. 2018. (The link takes you to the actual PDF document.)
- Johnathan Heidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. 2012.
- Linley Sanders, “Trust in Media 2022: Where Americans get their news and who they trust for information.” 2022. Based on a poll of 1500 Americans conducted by The Economist/YouGov.
These are some non-partisan efforts that have grown up in America over the past several decades, with a few gaining in membership and usefulness in the past five years or so. While all of these have merit and we heartily recommend that you check them out, we’d suggest that Braver Angels seems the most pro-active and effective in directly addressing the crisis of our country’s political divisions. — its sole purpose is healing the divide in our nation. Let us know of other organizations that you have researched, had contact with, and/or recommend.
America in One Room was one of the most significant political experiments in U.S. history. For the first time ever, a scientifically accurate microcosm of the entire country was brought together to deliberate on and address the critical issues facing the nation. A stratified random sample of 523 registered voters was identified out of millions of Americans through a rigorous scientific process in order to represent the political, cultural, and demographic diversity of the American electorate. Helena, a global problem-solving organization, brought each American to a single location in September 2019 — a resort in Dallas, Texas. For four days, the delegates participated in an unprecedented deliberation on the critical issues facing the U.S. In a process called “deliberative democracy polling,” the participants began by taking an in-depth questionnaire, stating their views on five key issue areas identified in earlier polling as most vital to the 2020 presidential election. The group was then given a 60-page briefing document, prepared and vetted by a distinguished group of policy experts from across the political spectrum. During the ensuing 4 days, the participants vigorously and respectfully deliberated on these polarizing issues with one another. At the end of the final day, the group took the original questionnaire again. The outcome was a landmark data set that represented the “will of the people” — what Americans think about values, candidates, and policy issues when given the chance to think deeply, engage with different opinions, and deliberate in a fact-rich and respectful environment. The results showed dramatic changes in opinion. The most polarizing policy proposals, whether from the left or the right, generally lost support, and a number of more centrist proposals moved to the foreground. What ensued was a worldwide response that included a special report from The New York Times. Their website is https://helena.org/projects/america-in-one-room
Braver Angels is the only organization we’ve found that works actively with ordinary people all over the United States to heal the political divide. They present workshops and programs in-person and on Zoom where people can actively participate or just observe and learn. They’ve begun to develop ways to engage politicians, but average people are truly their focus. They’ll take donations, but don’t require then, and they won’t constantly bug you to donate. Here’s more about them: In December 2016 the founders of Braver Angels brought 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters together in South Lebanon, Ohio, to see if Americans could still disagree respectfully – and, just maybe, find common ground. They did. Republican and Democrat, native born and immigrant: these Americans liked each other. But first they had to hear one another’s stories. Black and white, Christian and Muslim: these Americans could appreciate each other’s opinions. But first they needed to see where these opinions came from. They could listen to each other’s points of view once they saw one another, not as stereotypes, but as neighbors in a country they shared. This was the beginning of a powerful new approach to political depolarization that would soon sprout across the country – truly a grassroots organization run almost entirely by volunteers. Politics is tough and always has been. Issues are important and outcomes matter, but Braver Angels does not believe that politics has to be demonizing, or bring out the worst in us, or destroy the goodwill of our society: “If feelings about our political adversaries can be represented on a spectrum, our objective is to move Americans from hatred or disdain to respect & appreciation.” Their website is https://braverangels.org/
From their website: We are everyday citizens who work together to bring common sense to American politics in four steps. We call ourselves CommonSense Americans for 3 reasons. 1st, we are common Americans. We are ordinary citizens who go to work, love our families and friends, shop at the grocery store, and cheer on the home team. We share a love of this country’s strengths and wince at its failings. We also feel a deep conviction that, given the chance, we could change these failings into strengths. 2nd, we bring our everyday good sense to bear on the problems before us. It’s our ordinariness that is the source of that good sense. In this way, we’re Jeffersonian Americans. Jefferson placed legendary trust in the common people. He said that all of us are “endowed with a sense of right and wrong” that is as much a part of our nature as hearing, seeing, and feeling. “The moral sense, or conscience,” he said, “is given to all human beings.” “State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor,” Jefferson predicted, and the ploughman “will decide it as well, and often better” because he has “not been led astray by artificial rules.” 3rd, we only support a practical policy change in Congress and at the White House when our process confirms that it is supported by a sense held in common. We don’t focus on what divides us, but on what Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters from across the country can agree is good policy. Like America itself, we are diverse. We are men and women, black and white, well-to-do and counting-every-dollar. We live in urban, suburban, and rural communities in red states and blue. But we recognize this diversity as a source of strength rather than endless antagonism. In this sense, we’re Madisonian Americans. It was Madison who broke with thousands of years of conventional political wisdom when he argued that the American republic would succeed because of, and not despite, our nation’s remarkable diversity. To succeed, our membership must be robust and representative. We hope you’ll join us. Their website is: https://www.commonsenseamerican.org/
By signing up for The Flip Side, you get a daily email with snippets from articles on issues – from both Red and Blue perspectives. They say that they scour 30+ publications to see what’s making the top news. In order to see what people are talking about, they leverage tools like Newswhip, Blue Feed, Red Feed, and social media to see what’s trending. They say that the articles that they select must be substantive and/or offer fresh perspectives on a given topic. They use Survey and analysis from the Pew Research Center, the Knight Foundation, Media bias ratings from AllSides, Media Bias/Fact Check, and Berkman Klein Center study on the 2016 election coverage. They indicate that in addition to the publications themselves, they also pay attention to the self-described and perceived political leanings of the authors they cite. They choose the most representative and thought-provoking snippet of each article, and say that every article and snippet they choose is fact-checked, and approved by at least one liberal AND one conservative team member. They say that their readers feel “more optimistic seeing that sometimes both sides agree on something” and that reading The Flip Side helps them “understand how different people are telling the same stories each week, without the hair-on-fire reactions.” Their web address is https://www.theflipside.io/
Hidden Tribes is the work of researchers who surveyed more than 8,000 Americans to determine their views on polarization. We found the results surprising: While Americans clearly “hold dissimilar views on many issues, … more than three in four Americans also believe that our differences aren’t so great that we can’t work together.” Four topics — immigration impact, sexual harassment, white privilege, and Islamophobia — are areas of particular conflict. Their website is https://hiddentribes.us/
Today, the nation faces another fraught moment as American democracy struggles amid deep polarization. Partisan warfare has supplanted evidence-based problem-solving in our public life. Not since the Civil War have so many Americans held such radically different views—not just about politics but of reality itself. The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy aims to advance toward a more perfect union when the urgency of the political moment calls for action. Established with the core premise that the country has become disconnected from evidence and reason, the project seeks to supplant ideology with fact. It will re-introduce evidence, broadly defined, into the national conversation, pointing to solutions beyond reflexive ideological claims that will mix responses from the “left,” “right” and “center.” The project will examine vital questions of our democracy’s efficacy, durability and capacity. This effort will yield a nonpartisan hub for leading scholars, key policymakers, activists, opinion leaders and others to develop evidence-based solutions that are not driven by ideological predispositions. Their website is https://www.vanderbilt.edu/unity/
Writing Our Future: American Creed is part of the National Writing Project’s family of youth publishing projects, all gathered under the Writing Our Future initiative. Writing Our Future projects are designed by educators for educators and the young people they work with. Intended for use in schools, libraries, and other educational settings. All projects are COPPA compliant and educator-managed. NWP is committed to supporting young people’s writing and civic participation by providing a safe and supportive environment for youth writing, media creation, sharing, and publishing. A documentary based on the young people’s writings aired on PBS in February 2018 and remains available for educators to stream on the PBS website. The youth publishing website will remain open through 2019. A promotional toolkit is also available to help spread the word about this exciting project. Their website is https://writingourfuture.nwp.org/americancreed/about
The International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution is associated with Columbia University in New York, and coordinates information about organizations that seek to transform polarization and division. At this website you will see lists of organizations, groups, and people organized by sector that work to bridge divides in society and in their fields. These divisions may be political, economic, or social but what these groups have in common is that they seek to build bridges between divided communities. This PDF is a terrific resource — it’s a 24-page list of the organizations.